Archive for July 2016

Zealot? To what extreme

TThis article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Yissachar Frand, Yossi Bilus, Berel Wein, Asher Hurzberg,  Yonnasan Zweig, Lable Lamm

Mets! Yankee! Mets! Yankees! Root, root, root for the home team and if they don’t win it’s a shame. If you’re a diehard fan, your team means everything to you. New York has two professional baseball teams and for the most part the city is divided, rooting for either of the two. Does one remember those “I hate Yankees” chants? How about when as a child you passed by, not just once, but two kids who were discussing how the Mets had a lousy team, and without thinking twice chimed in and interrupted their conversation with a growling sneer defending your beloved Mets. Yes, yes, you were a little Mets zealot weren’t you?

However, getting autographed baseballs, collecting baseball cards, and wearing the cap or team jersey is put aside once childhood ends. It was nice, but now it’s time to move on to more serious stuff. Well, for most of us, that is. The buck stops there. For some though it doesn’t end quite yet. I know a delivery man who works for a jewelry company who is probably 40 or 50 years old and is still wearing his Mets cap and jersey, and if you dare tell him that his team is not good, he’ll stop and argue with you. “What did you say?” He’ll respond with a thick Brooklyn accent, even though he’s born and bred in Queens, with his eyes popping out no less. If you aggravate him a little too much he might even use violence. He is not so different than those Soccer fans in Europe who brawl at the stadiums or bars being the zealot fans that they are. Many have ended up at the hospital with injuries, some serious, and some have died just for being a zealot to the “cause”.

In this week’s parsha we read how Pinchas was enraged with the actions of Zimri ben Salul, who challenged Moshe’s authority by taking a non-Jewish woman into the tent to have an illicit relationship in front of the entire nation. Pinchas was so furious with the audacity of Zimri that after receiving permission from Moshe, he entered the tent and speared the two sinners to death. His brazen act of zealotry was praised by G-d and he was rewarded greatly.

Is being a zealot good or bad? To what extent, if we have the green light, can we practice being a zealot? Where do we draw the line with being a zealot? Why is this act connected to Aharon his grandfather, a man of peace? What peace is there in Pinchas’s act? And interestingly, why is the vov in the word shalom in the parsha split? It is also interesting to note that there is a concept brought down that Eliyahu and Pinchas are deeply connected. In fact, Eliyahu is a reincarnate of Pinchas. Let us see some connections.

There are pluses and minuses in taking on the cause and waiving the kinah-zealot flag. Pinchas’s deed evokes many associations-courage, decisiveness and religious passion are several that come to mind-but peace hardly seems one of them. Pinchas, after all, killed two people. True, what he did was condoned by Torah law, and his doing so saved many lives, but still, one does not usually think of homicide as a peaceful act. Some have the custom to remove metal and steel utensils before we recite bircat hamazone for they are a symbol of weaponry and war and G-d hates bloodshed. Rabbi Yissachar Frand read once a quote which he thought was profound from Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel in the early 1970s. Golda Meir once said that she could forgive the Arabs for killing the Jews, but she could not forgive the Arabs for forcing the Jews to kill Arabs. Killing, even in a justified defensive war, ultimately has an effect on the national soul. King David was denied building the Bet Hamikdash-Temple for he had b
lood on his hands. His son King Shlomo, “a peacetime king” took the mantle.

Pinchas is not an overly popular figure in Jewish life and among his own generation. The people of Israel were angered by his act of violence in killing the head of the tribe of Shimon without giving the matter due judicial process. It is because of this type of murmuring that the Lord Himself, so to speak, blesses Pinchas personally and grants him the gift of priesthood and of peace.

Pinchas and his behavior become the exception and not the rule in Jewish life and tradition. Zealotry is a very difficult characteristic to gauge correctly. And it is noteworthy therefore to emphasize that we do not find any other further act of holy zealotry mentioned in the Torah or approved of by Jewish tradition How much are personal quirks involved in such zealous behavior? Jewish history and society is littered by the victims of religious zealotry who were felled by personal attacks clothed in the guise of religious piety and zealotry.

The zealot often covers his own weaknesses and self-doubt by attacking others. The rationale for Bnei Yisroel’s criticism of Pinchas is based upon what is known as the “reformed smoker syndrome”; very often, the most rabid anti-smoker is a reformed smoker. In an attempt to rid himself of some negative habit or trait, a person may react very negatively to others who exhibit the same trait. This person’s reaction is fueled by the fear that seeing others exhibiting the same negative trait which he once exhibited will rekindle his own connection to it. That is why the people of Israel questioned the motives of Pinchas in killing Zimri. Because of this, it is obvious that only God, so to speak, could save Pinchas from unwarranted criticism and public disapproval. But in doing so, God, again so to speak, warns us of the dangers of zealotry. He will not step in again to rescue the zealot from public and historical disapproval.


There is an interesting comment in the Midrash by the incident of Eliyahu at Mount Carmel (Melachim I Chapter 18). Eliyahu challenged the prophets of Baal to bring down a fire from Heaven to accept their offerings. They were unable to do this. Eliyahu succeeded in bringing down a fire from Heaven to accept his own offering. All the people fell on their faces, prostrated themselves, and declared, “Hashem, He is G-d.” This is the famous proclamation that reverberates throughout our synagogues at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

The narration in the book of Melachim continues. “Eliyahu said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Let none of them escape!’ So they seized them. Eliyahu took them down to the Kishon Brook and slaughtered them there.” (Melachim 1 18:40) The wicked Queen Izevel heard what Eliyahu did to her prophets and sent a message pledging to do the exact same thing to him that he did to the prophets of Baal.

Eliyahu fled and went into hiding. Eliyahu, with his zealous persona, was not able to tolerate any wrong doing by the Jewish people to the extent that he complained to G-d about them. “I have acted with great zeal for Hashem, G-d of Legions, because the Children of Israel have forsaken Your Covenant; they have razed Your altars and have killed Your prophets by the sword, so that I alone have remained, and they now seek to take my life,” he said. (Pasuk 10)

The Midrash comments that G-d chastised Eliyahu for not talking properly about His people. “Do not say about My People ‘they have not kept Your Covenant!’ Do not talk that way about Jews! You should have said, “They are Your children, descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.”

Rav Mordechai Katz, of Blessed Memory, interprets the Midrash. In spite of the fact that the acts of zealotry of Pinchas / Eliyahu were noble acts and in spite of the fact that Pinchas received the priesthood for it, the acts were not perfect acts. Pinchas / Eliyahu was too indicting and condemning of the Jewish people.

There was never a more ‘for the sake of Heaven’ zealot in the history of the world than Eliyahu the prophet. He is the paragon of the proper form of zealotry. G-d rewarded him for it. But even that zealot was less than perfect because at the same time that he defended the Honor of G-d, he was too harsh in his attitude toward the Jewish people. The Jews had to be admonished, true, but he was just a little too strong. He should not have said “They have forsaken Your Covenant (Bris).”

We are told that the prophet Eliyahu attends every circumcision (Bris) of Jewish babies. Part of the ritual is to reserve a chair for Eliyahu. The reason why he must attend every Bris is a decree from G-d. Eliyahu must attend every Bris in order to recognize that he was wrong. Klal Yisrael does keep the Covenant (Bris).

Nothing in religious life is more risk-laden than zeal, and nothing is more compelling than the truth that G-d taught Eliyahu, that G-d is not to be found in the use of force but in the still, small voice that turns the sinner from sin. As for vengeance, that belongs to G-d alone.

Zealotry is such a dangerous trait that even the noble Pinchas / Eliyahu can overdo it, by uttering just a single word that is too strong. This demonstrates how delicate and careful one must be when wielding the sword of zealotry.

We meet Pinchas again later in Jewish history, again at a moment of personal tragedy. He is the High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin at the time of Yiftach, the judge of Israel. Yiftach has made a foolish vow that whatever or whoever comes forth first from his house to greet him upon his return from the successful war that he waged to save Israel from the oppression of Bnei Ammon will be sacrificed to G-d.

The daughter of Yiftach, not knowing of her father’s vow, rushes out of the house to welcome home the returning hero. Eventually Yiftach fulfills his vow and kills her on the altar. This entire horrible story could have been averted.

The rabbis in the Talmud tell us that Yiftach could have had the vow annulled retroactively by appearing before Pinchas and his court and requesting such an annulment. But ego and hubris interfere, even at the cost of the life of one’s own child. Yiftach refused to humble himself – after all, he is the leader of Israel – to appear before Pinchas and ask for the annulment.

Even though Pinchas is aware of the vow, he also refuses to lower himself – after all, he is the High Priest and the head of the Sanhedrin – to travel to Yiftach to affect the annulment. As the Talmud ruefully observes, because of this display of personal pique and ego, an innocent person was killed. Pinchas’s reputation is therefore tarnished by this incident. Perhaps this is another reason that we do not find the zealotry of Pinchas repeated and complimented again in the Torah.

Pinchas gave his name to the parsha in which Moshe asks God to appoint a successor. Rav Menahem Mendel, the Rebbe of Kotzk, asked why Pinchas, hero of the hour, was not appointed instead of Joshua. His answer was that a zealot cannot be a leader. Leadership requires patience, forbearance and respect for due process. The zealots within besieged Jerusalem in the last days of the Second Temple played a significant part in the city’s destruction. They were more intent on fighting one another than the Romans outside the city walls.

Well, zealotry is not all that bad. Mind you, if you will, although we are very cautious of the zealot syndrome as we have so convincingly have tried to convey. However, there is a crucial lesson that we can learn from zealotry. First and foremost, it is the epitome of individuality and creativity. Therefore it’s a fundamental part of growth. We have to stand back and marvel at the magnitude of the accomplishment of Pinchas! All of Israel was at risk! We were hemorrhaging badly. Someone needed to stop the bleeding. The Midrash relates the gravity of the situation and the value of the deed done by Pinchas. However there’s a louder point here. The whole plague was started like a wildfire by one person, and it was extinguished by the heroism of one man. Look at the power invested in the individual!

It may be hard for us to believe this in the abstract but we live it concretely every day! Traffic is backed up for miles. Ambulances and stretchers are rushed to the scene. Lives are ruined and hundreds of thousands are inconvenienced due to the loss of valuable work time, missed appointments and airplane flights. Why? One foolish person was engaged in distracted driving, multitasking, absorbed in texting during the morning commute. Look at the power any individual has to be destructive. About this King Solomon wrote in Kohelet, “One sinner destroys a lot of good!” It’s easy to be destructive. It’s harder to be constructive. It takes months and years to build a house and with one match all is lost. It takes years to develop a trusting relationship and with one word or a single betrayal all can be undone! It’s hard for us to imagine the power of the average individual to affect good like Pinchas did! Rebbe Nachman from Breslov said, “If you believe you have the ability to destroy something then you must also believe that you have the capacity to correct it.”

As is the case every week, we have to find out what we can learn from the holy Torah and apply it to our everyday life. What can we possibly learn from Pinchas / Eliyahu and the foreign concept of being a zealot without getting into trouble?

Rabbi Yossi Bilus mentioned something that would shed some light on how zealousness can be applicable in our lives today. Unfortunately, this occurs all too often in our circles. In his neighborhood in Flatbush, a predominantly Orthodox community, there was one Jewish storeowner whose shop was open on Shabbat. Congregants from the neighboring shuls would pass by after services and the non-observant Jew would be working attending customers. A little while later, though, through persuasions from individuals from the community, the store owner closed his shop on Shabbat.

The baseball fan will stop and argue that his team is the best because he’s a zealot. He is a Mets or Yankees diehard fan. “How can you put down my team?” he would say and feel with his heart. It’s his duty. Perhaps we, as well, being fans of Judaism , have to take the initiative. We should approach, in a pleasant, diplomatic way, and persuade the store owner to do the right thing. If the person is unapproachable or reluctant to close his store on Shabbat, a good barometer that we are a proper zealot would be to feel pained by the incident. After all, we are all in it together. We have to feel bad that his store is open on a holy day, that people are eating non-kosher, driving on Shabbat or even talking in shul, because if not, we’re not good fans of the game called Judaism.

This is where we have to step up to the plate. There is absolutely no need to throw rocks at cars that are driving on Shabbat. But a caring attitude and the ability to approach someone in a pleasant, nice way are vital, and this is the modern day zealot.

Rabbi Asher Hurzberg relates a story about a friend who is now retired and living in Israel. For twenty eight years he was a teacher in the New York public school system. Every week he would invite Jewish kids to his house for Shabbat meals. Through the course of his tenure as teacher he successfully convinced many Jewish public school boys to transfer to Yeshiva. This teacher is a modern day zealot.

Zealotry requires the love of G-d; however, it also requires the knowledge of how to use that love correctly. We New Yorkers often have a nonchalant attitude and we don’t get involved even though many times we should. And if we do get involved we invoke the tool of the zealot in a very brazen and forceful, angry way. This has to be corrected.

How striking! Pinchas’s zealotry outwardly appeared to be the antithesis of shalom. However, G d explicitly attached Pinchas’s name to Aaron, the gentlest and most peace-loving man that Israel knew. Aaron is the “lover of peace and pursuer of peace, one who loves humanity and brings them close to Torah.” G d was attesting to Pinchas’s true character and temperament.

This is symbolized by the unusual way the word “peace,” shalom, is written in the Torah at this juncture. The Mesoratic text (handed down from generation to generation all the way from Sinai) teaches us that the letter vav in this word is split in the middle. It is thus written almost like two yuds placed one on top of the other.

How strange. Why the deviation from the way the letter vav is customarily written, as one unbroken stroke?

The commentaries teach us that the letter vav, which is used as a prefix to mean “and,” implies chibur, connectedness. Vav never stands alone; it is always attached as a prefix to another word.

We mortals stand upright like the letter vav, reflecting our divine mission to connect heaven and earth, becoming the conduit of Hashem’s bountiful goodness on this earth while reflecting His heavenly values in our day-to-day lives. Those values are caring and kindness to the highest level, which is seemingly unreachable for a true zealot, and are hard to achieve. However, the effort is imperative and reaching out can get miraculous results.

Are they some Kabalist/Rabbis who take their powers from evil sources?

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Berrel Wien, Eliyahu ben Chaim, Asher Hurzberg, Naftali Gonzvi, Pinchus Winston, Yossi Bilius,  Abba Wagensberg, Nissan Midel and The Nachshoni

What’s the difference between a Kabbalist and a Rabbi? A Kabbalist is in a higher tax bracket.

Do traditional Jews take mysticism with a grain of salt? One prominent Orthodox Jew, when introducing a speaker on the subject of Jewish mysticism, basically said, “It’s nonsense, but it’s Jewish nonsense, and the study of anything Jewish, even nonsense, is worthwhile.”

However in many circles going to a Kabbalist is a way of life. One may have a favorite social drink, favorite sport team and a favorite Kabbalist. Perhaps in our New York circles, the Kabbalist has replaced the psychologist as “the go to guy” for help with every aspect of life’s decisions. It makes a great conversation piece at wedding, “Oh, who’s your Kabbalist? Does he take American Express?”

One has to ask if this is the right path for us Jews to consider. Do Kabbalists actually have special powers? And if they do, where do they get their powers from? Is it possible they can get their energy source from a negative evil side? Can we tap in to their superpowers?

First and foremost, one has to realize that once people begin to complicate their lives by attending a Kabbalist it becomes addicting. The reliance increases for every small item. It could start with a legitimate inquiry and gravitate toward the most trivial, like what color paint my patio should be. People start to think, “No I can’t make that decision, I’m not as worthy as the Kabbalist.” This is an addiction and it starts when man seeks to have an edge in life. However, man, not being G-d, is part of that perfect imperfection and is therefore prone to making mistakes. Man, be it the person seeking help as well as the Kabbalist, can, even innocently at times, end up working against G-d even when, at times, he thinks that he is working with Him. As it has been said, the road to Gehinom is paved with good intentions.

We see how having an edge sometimes could lead to a big fiasco. Korach saw through Ruach HaKodesh that from him is destined leadership. But “the eyes fooled him” (Rashi). He didn’t realize is that it was not him who was destined to be the leader but his descendent Shmuel. He misread the divine prophesy.

Similarly, Achitofel was King David’s teacher and was the smartest man in the world at the time. His advice was as good as gold. He saw in Ruach HaKodesh, again that edge, the he is destined the Kingdom. That motivated him to contrite a plan instigating David’s own son Avshalom to rebel against his father. This became one of the uglier episodes in Jewish History. At the end the coup failed and both Achitofel and Avshalom died. What he too didn’t realize was that it wasn’t he who would be king but his great grandson Shlomo.


In the early part of the 1900’s in Eastern Europe there were documented cases of “DEBUK”- a malevolent wandering spirit that enters and possesses the body of a living person until exorcized. Why was there such a scary phenomenon at this particular period and place? Can one imagine children being possessed by evil spirits? Our Rabbis taught us a concept that when there is a high level of kedusha then there will automatically also be a high level of impurity. In our illustrious Jewish history, this period was known for tremendous amount of Torah learning. The Volozhin as well as the Pressburg Yeshivot were at their heyday and produced some of the greatest Torah scholars that we ever had. But life has to be of equilibrium. When there is a high level of kedusha there will always be an equal amount of evil. The balance must always be.

Today however the generation is substantially weaker compared to yesteryear and it would be highly unlikely that we can produce high levels of great Torah scholars, and equally unlikely to have witches, demons, ghosts or goblins. You are the product of the environment.

Where do magic and extra -terrestrial powers measure on the glucometer of today? Let’s examine the mechanics or at least touch upon one of the many major ways one can elevate himself to superhuman status. In this week’s parsha we encounter one of the more fascinating characters in the Torah, Bilam.

Bilam first appears in our parsha as a human menace, one who with magic or the evil eye by sight or by speech can cause havoc. However we find something interesting that he, by his behavior, is totally dependent on G-d. Although he doesn’t listen very well and transgresses the command against harming Israel, nevertheless he seeks Divine consultation. Strangely, we see a shift later; his devilish image disappears, replaced by that of a prophet who knows the secrets of the future. But we’re not quite finished with him yet. The next episode has him becoming an inciter, who advises corrupting Israel in the pleasures of the flesh. Ultimately, he is killed in battle by the Jews.

In our modern world what can we learn from him? Not the black magic that he inherited from his father (or as some say his grandfather) Lavan. Nor is it the presents Balak received from the gifts that Avraham, our forefather gave to the sons of Ketura, one of his wives. Rav Yirmiya bar Aba taught, “He gave over to them the use of G-d’s name with impurity.” This, Rashi tells us, means that he taught them black magic and demonology. Some Sages teach us that some of the black magic had to do with incense. Avraham received the knowledge of this power from Pharoah as a gift along with his daughter Hagar when he went to Egypt. But today all this is pretty much irrelevant and a waste of time. The Torah is attempting to teach us something. In order to understand a tremendous insight in ourselves and our powers, what we can achieve, we have to examine a few occurrences in our rich past.

We left Egypt in the most thunderous way, with miracles and with the hand of G-d clearly visible. What a way to become a nation. As we know from the Torah and the stories we recite at the seder, we were in a rush (I guess we trace that trait from our ancestors) and didn’t have time to bake the dough. Apparently they didn’t even want to prepare anything for the way, and thus the commentators explain that they had to leave quickly in order to avoid descending to the final level of the Fifty Gates of Impurity. This, of course, is where we encountered Matzot.

However, this does not seem to be correct. Just the opposite! The strength of impurity had been eliminated as a result of the revelation of the Divine Presence, as it says, “For the Children of Israel even a dog will not growl.” (Shemot 11:7). He judged their gods and killed their firstborn. If so, how can it be said that impurity has any control, G-d forbid?

After the redemption had already commenced, from the time the plagues had begun 12 months prior, Evil (Sitra Achra) began to lose power and he continued to do so from that point onward, particularly from the time the actual oppression ended which was on Rosh Hashanah, as it says in Tractate Rosh Hashanah (11a).

In the month of Nissan, and especially on the first night of Pesach, Evil- the S”A was completely beaten and conquered to the point of extinction. If so, how can one say there was concern about the power of the 50th gate of Impurity?

For, G-d, shined His holy light onto the Jewish people, as the author of the Haggadah has written, “The King of Kings was revealed to them.” Therefore, they could not remain in Egypt a moment longer lest the S”A become completely eradicated and free will become eliminated. Egypt was the chief of all the Klipos- negative energy, and if she had been destroyed then so too the S”A and Evil inclination would have been destroyed completely. Free will would no longer have existed, and for this reason they could not delay. Thus, the verse says, “Egypt imposed itself strongly upon the people to hasten to send them out of the land, for they said, ‘We are all dying.'” (Shemot 12:33).

Thus, redemption had not occurred as a result of their own merit, but on the contrary, they had been quite absorbed and drowning in the zuhama and depths of Egyptian impurity. Indeed, only as a result of the merit of covenant with our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov had this been accomplished.

What begs to be asked is in what method did G-d eradicate and weaken Evil, the Yetzer Hara?

At one point in history, the leading sages were Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosei the Galilite, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. While discussing what attitude to take towards the Roman government, Rabbi Yehudah suggested a friendly one, Rabbi Yosei expressed no opinion, while Rabbi Shimon spoke very bitterly of the Roman tyrants and advocated every possible defiance. Rabbi Shimon could never forget the terrible sight of his beloved master and teacher, Rabbi Akiva, being tortured to death by the Roman executioners. The sages were not aware that their conversation was overheard by a certain young man, Judah ben Gerim. At one time a disciple of Rabbi Shimon, Judah ben Gerim later turned spy for the Roman authorities. This treacherous man reported the conversation of the sages to the Roman authorities.

Rabbi Shimon fled for his life together with his son Rabbi Elazar. Without telling anyone of their whereabouts, they hid in a cave for thirteen years.

One day after Rabbi Shimon emerged he met Judah ben Gerim, the treacherous spy who had caused him so much trouble. Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, “Is this man still alive?” and soon afterwards Judah ben Gerim died.

Our Sages comment how Rabbi Shimon killed the spy. “Rabbi Shimon gazed at him and he turned into a heap of bones.” With his gaze, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to suck out all the kedusha of the individual, like a mosquito sucking blood from a person. Similarly by the redemption, the kedusha was being drained out of Egypt and for this reason the Israelites had to hasten their leave.

According to the Mystiques, our job in this world is to uncover or perhaps increase the sparks of kedusha from elements and people that we encounter. Everything is covered by a shell (klipa). There are times when we can increase the kedusha from under these sparks, but there are also times when we can decrease kedusha; empty it of its holiness. The two examples we used were Egypt and the death of the spy by the gaze of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. In order for evil to exist it needs sparks of kedusha. For this reason all of our most notorious enemies have had in one sense or the other an association with G-d, the Torah or the Jewish people.

Shabtai Tzvi (1648), the false prophet whom we discussed a few weeks ago, began eating prohibited foods claiming he was able to bring out the spark of kedusha from these products even though in essence you can’t. When the Mashiach comes then we all will be able to eradicate those sparks. Apparently Shabtai Tzvi thought he was the Mashiach and gave his stamp of approval to do so. The Sages were suspect of his claim and thought otherwise. We have seen that all of Creation is composed of a mixture of good and evil. Likewise, in every food that a person eats there is a combination of good and evil. Food physically consists of good counterparts, i.e. nutrients, and bad aspects, i.e. waste or indigestible matter. Likewise, spiritually, food contains sparks of holiness, or good components, and husks, or kelipot, which are the gross, bad components that encompass the sparks.

Eating is one of our most common activities. It must be G-d’s Will that we are so involved in eating. There must be an important spiritual purpose to it. If we really can separate good from evil by eating correctly, then this purification has great ramifications upon all levels of reality.


Let’s examine Noah. Noah was an ISH (man) TZADDIK (righteous person) TAMIM (who was completely righteous) (Genesis 6:9). The word ISH is a compliment in its own right, and the additional descriptions heap honor upon honor on Noah. No other personality is described with so many consecutive praises in one verse!

The first verse in the Book of Psalms teaches: “Fortunate is the man (ISH) who has not gone in the counsel of the wicked, and has not stood in the path of sinners, and has not sat in the company of scoffers.” The Midrash Socher Tov, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, comments that the phrase “Fortunate is the man (ISH)” refers to Noah, since Noah is called ISH, as in our pasuk.

Why is Noah described as “fortunate”? According to the Midrash, Noah was fortunate in that he did not follow the ways of the three categories of people (wicked, sinners, scoffers) cited in Psalms. These three negative categories correspond to the three generations that arose in the world over the course of Noah’s lifetime: the generation of Enosh (Adam’s grandson, who initiated the practice of idolatry), the generation of the Flood (who were immersed in immoral behavior), and the generation of the dispersion (who built the Tower of Babel in order to wage war against G-d). It was Noah’s good fortune that he did not go in the path of any of these three generations.

The Midrash teaches us that Noah spent his entire life surrounded by evil and wickedness, yet he managed to make himself into one of the most righteous people who ever lived. This is a remarkable feat. How is it possible for a person to maintain such a high level of spirituality while surrounded by an environment of depravity and corruption?

A passage from the Talmud will help us resolve this question. Ben Zoma says, “Who is a wise person? One who learns from everyone.” (Avot 4:1). This is a strange statement. It seems reasonable for us to want to learn from righteous people, but what is wise about learning from the wicked?

The Berditchiver Rebbe remarks that righteous people are able to perceive positive qualities in even the most negative situations. From everything they encounter, they learn how to serve G-d better.

For example, if a righteous person were to witness someone passionately engaged in sinning, he would recognize and appreciate the tremendous motivating power of passion. However, instead of taking that power and using it to accomplish negative goals, the righteous person would redirect it for a meaningful purpose. The correct channeling of passion has the potential to change rote, sterile performance of God’s mitzvot into mitzvah observance driven by enthusiasm and fire! (Kedushat Levi, end of Parshat Bereishit.)

Noah epitomized this ability to channel negative forces toward a higher purpose. A hint to this idea is found in his name. The Torah tells us (Genesis 6:8) that Noah found chen (favor) in the eyes of God. The name NOAH (nun-chet), when reversed, spells CHEN (chet-nun)! Noah found favor in the eyes of God by mastering the art of reversal. He had the ability to redirect every energy from a negative goal to a positive one. All powers come from one source, and therefore they are all good; the only question is how they are used. It is written in our holy books, “Who is strong? One who conquers his self.” Our sages define conquering as channeling and redirecting, and that is what Noah did.

This is why a wise person learns from everyone. Instead of being corrupted by his evil generation, Noah used it as an opportunity for spiritual growth. He had the ‘best’ teachers available! All Noah had to do was learn to take their ingenuity, arrogance, passion, jealousy and zeal, and use them in a productive, constructive way to get closer to G-d.

The understanding from the writings of our great Sages is that each one of us has been created in our own unique way and each individual can reach to the highest spiritual superpower level by his own gifts and abilities. There must be a tremendous amount of Torah learning, refinement of character and acts of kindness. The secret is it has to be done measured correctly to our own self. We all can tap in to Kochot-powers that we didn’t know we had. If we hone our abilities we would be shockingly surprised with ourselves. By channeling different aspects of our character traits and shuffling around the different reservoirs of our personality we can master the world. This was Noah’s great ability. He was able to redirect kochot and channel the energy in a positive G-dly light

May we all learn how to transform the power of every energy into positive actions in order to become the best we can possibly be ….. and that can be enormously super!

So in conclusion there is no difference if one, the kabbalist, goes through evil or kosher route, since  all sources  originates from G-d. This is evident from the reliance Bilam  put on the Master of the Universe. What is important to note that we are able to transform a negativity to a positive light. Noach is the prime example of this. The other way around is also true, Furthermore, the kedusha in the world is not on the strength of yesteryear therefore the power of evil is not as strong. Good and evil are always equal.”

The Complete Man

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hurzberg, Jay Shapiro, Yossi Bilus, Meir Levin, Dr. Abba Goldman

There is a story of two brothers who grew up in the slums of New York, in a neighborhood where all young men join gangs. As they rise in status within the gang, they realize the dangers and the essential immorality of their lifestyles. They see all their friends wind up either dead or in jail. Both brothers, against all odds slip through the cracks, taking advantage of opportunities and escaping their neighborhood. They give up their old life.

One brother makes a clean break, signs up with the Army. After finishing his term of enlistment, moves to a farm. He never returns to the old neighborhood, concerned that he’d be sucked back into his previous life. He puts up an imaginary fence, a protection, that he does not even think of the past. He severs his relations with his former friends, his parents, schoolmates, upbringing, and memories. One may say his move was necessary and commendable. He deemed it vital, a must, for he knows his weakness and is fearful that he may be susceptible to the life of crime and violence. He took upon a life similar to that of a witness within a protection program. However he really didn’t have to do that. The fear propelled him to act that way.

The other brother chooses differently. He never forgets the past. He, inspired by his new conviction, goes back to the old neighborhood as an addiction counselor, feeling for his old friends or the people like them. He builds a social service organization. He uses his intimate knowledge of criminal culture and its distribution networks and patterns of association to preach a gospel of communal renewal. He turns the sordid past into an inspiring future – for it was his past that enabled him now to accomplish all this. He did not give up his past. He demonstrates a love for his friends of yesterday and campaigns comradery amongst them, he makes it the basis and foundation for new gains.

Which brother was correct in his path of life? One might think it’s a silly question, however if one gives it some thought it is quite complex. Is it the brother who guided his life through fear or the brother who went in the way of love? Is his fear properly channeled? Is this what children have to feel for their parents?

In this week’s parsha we read about the Kohanim and how they blessed the nation. There is one word in the blessing that stands out, B’AHAVA- with love. They have to bless the nation, with raised hands, with the feeling of love towards their brethren. Interestingly YAD (hand) times two equals to twenty eight, which is also equal to KOACH – strength. When one shows love towards his fellow man, that unity brings strength.

Although AHAVA is a beautiful trait to have, there is a major component missing from it to present the “complete man”. We see this clearly by our forefather Avraham who is described early in the Torah as an “OHEV HASHEM”, one who loves G-d. He is also famously known for is his love of his fellow man. Evidence of this love is his generous hospitality which he and his wife displayed.

However, Avraham was instructed to perform the toughest commandment of his life to slaughter his son Yitzchak. To prepare mentally for this Avraham had to change. AHAVA was not enough and not appropriate for this difficult task, he had to focus his thought pattern through fear and the highest component of fear is awe. In the end, Avraham did not have to sacrifice his son, and this act is known famously as the Akedat Yitzchak. After the test was complete, G-d said “Now I know that you’re G-d fearing”, implying that he has been elevated and transformed into being the “complete man”.

We’ve just concluded the holiday where we received the Torah. There is a question we must ponder for the pasuk (18:17-19) seemingly is referring to two mountains: Mount Sinai and another mountain. Furthermore the scripture writes “Z’MAN TORAHTAINU”- “the time where we received our Torah”. However, Am Yisrael didn’t possess the Torah yet. It was still G-d’s Torah. It should haves said “Z’MAN TORAHTO”- “we are acquiring “his Torah””. Also one must take note on Pesach we read the ever so popular DAYENU. One of the DAYENU’s is “If you just brought us to Mount Sinai and you didn’t give us the Torah -that would’ve been enough”. Hey! We schlepped all the way to the dessert for what? To eat Pavlov?! What are we standing here for!!

Here is the answer: We already acquired a Torah (Toratainu), the Torah of Awe, the Torah of Fear. By meriting to stand on Mount Sinai we graduated with the honor of being “YIRAT SHAMAYIM – Fear of the Heavens”. That is a big accomplishment!! The second anonymous mountain is Har Hamoria. The root of the word Moria is YIRA-fear. Mount Sinai was the Mountain of the love of Torah.

Ever wonder why they ask the question “Does he have Yirat shamayim – fear of the heavens?” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “Yirat Hashem”?

The reason is that the Shamayim froze out of awe when G-d Commanded it. This is how we should act. The Shamayim is the quintessential act of fear. Dr. Goldman qualifies fear as not necessarily being afraid, but an Awe fear. One should be in awe of G-d.

You see, all repentance is motivated by something. Let us examine the fear factor from the story of Yonah and whale. Yonah was asked to go to Nineveh and make them aware of the importance to repent. The repentance of the sailors was caused by fear. The details of the narrative make this fact quite clear; in addition, the episode of the sailors’ repentance that parallels that of Nineveh, is explicit, “And the men feared the L-rd greatly and they offered sacrifices to the L-rd and made vows.” (1, 16)

The repentance of Nineveh, however, unlike that of the sailors is characterized as arising out of belief, “The men of Nineveh believed in G- d, they called a fast and put on sack, from the youngest to the oldest”(3,5). The psychological link between fear and belief is highlighted in “The people feared the L-rd and they believed in the L-rd and Moses, his servant.” (JPS commentary to Yonah 3,5 from Exodus 14,31)

There is a view that conveys that this is considered unstable. Fear may be a great uplifter and motivator, but often it does not last. This kind of repentance may be followed by the long, hard work of self- examination and progressive inner change, or, it may eventuate in angry rebellion and return to the old lifestyle. Not surprisingly, most of the book of Exodus is an account of the frequent backsliding of the Children of Israel, despite the fact that they feared and believed. This kind of repentance demands a walling of major aspects of one’s personality and forced impoverishment of the self. It is better than nothing, but it is far from ideal. The Rabbis called it Repentance through Fear.

The sailors and men of Nineveh embody this kind of repentance, an abrupt change of course but not necessarily change of heart, before the power of G-d. At the same time Sefer Yonah stays invariably focused on another kind of repentance – that of the prophet Yonah. This man, Yonah, is not afraid of G-d; he will not be bowed by His power and might. Yet, on the other hand, his heart is open to learning from events and circumstances that befall him. Needless to say, he does not preach repentance to Nineveh, for he does not accept the very concept of repentance. His confidence in this rigid morality is shaken by G-d’s tolerance of his own rebellion and by His Mercy by sending him a miraculous salvation within the belly of the fish. So he succumbs and goes to Nineveh. But he is not yet fully convinced. Yonah must yet undergo more revelations and again experience G-d’s personal kindness to him. Eventually he learns, and what he learns never leaves him. This kind of repentance is as solid as a rock and our Sages referred to it as Repentance through Love. Love here means noble motivations as opposed to fear for one’s survival and terror of punishment.

But one needs a balance.

Rabbi Jay Shapiro, one of my mentors, quotes Rav Eliyahu Lapian’s parable and explanation on the contradiction. Once, there was a king that was very popular and loved by all. He had an important meeting cross-country and the optimal form of transportation was the royal train. It was a three-day trip, with planned designated stops all throughout the country. Towards the end of his route to the meeting, the royal train pulls into this town. It seemed like the townspeople were hungrily ready for his arrival. Banners were hanging on the rafters of the train station with the words ‘WE LOVE YOU KING’, the band was playing his favorite song during a presentation by the second grade choir of the town’s prestigious school; the clowns were juggling; the hot dog stand was full.

All were waiting to see His Majesty the King; the enthusiastic noise was getting more intense. After fifteen minutes, a guard emerges and made an announcement: “The King loves you all, but he’s had a long day and he’s trying to get some sleep; he has a major conference tomorrow and he would appreciate some quiet.” After the guard returned back to the train the crowd continued the noise. “WE LOVE YOU KING!” they proclaimed as they showed more of their intense love. The band played louder; the juggler added another ball; more hotdogs and Marino’s ices were added.

A little while later, a guard emerged from the train, this time slightly agitated and a bit more firm, “We ask you nicely, the King has a very important meeting tomorrow and needs his sleep. Please refrain from noise.” The guard disappeared back into the train, presumably satisfied that his words made an impression. But that did not stop the crowd; they had anticipated this day for a while and were eager to show their love and affection to the king. They continued making noise.

Ten minutes later six guards appeared on the high platform next to the locomotive, carrying rifles. The head guard spoke up: “Whoever makes another sound will be shot!”

As a result of these frightening words, you could’ve heard a pin drop among the three thousand well-wishers.

Rav Lapian asks, “Do they still love their king? The answer is yes, but now they fear him as well as love him. If there would be no fear, the important mission would not have been accomplished properly, even though the right intentions were at heart.”

In order for us to function as proper Jews and to adhere to his laws correctly, progressively and efficiently, one has to incorporate a little fear as well as the love that one dearly possesses for Him, or else there will be total chaos. A person may eat pig and say “I appreciate the food G d has giving me.” There is an expression, which is used frequently “I love G d in my heart and I’ll show it my way.” This is inappropriate; there are rules and they have to be followed. For example, if one violates Shabbat he will pay the consequences. Logically, it of course makes sense to have law and order, or religion will be a free for all.

The same can be said with parents who treat their children like best friends where the children call them by their first name. This is love without the awe. Fear or awe can be debilitating to such an extent where children do not confide in their parent.

There are some difficulty with the two brother’s approach to life. It’s very commendable that the one brother went back however he is susceptible – both him and his family to influence. The other brother has deprived others of his valuable experience. This goes against Ahava which the Kohanim convey in their bracha. One has to balance love and fear in order to be the complete man.

Machloket-Kamiot and a dangerous game of l’shem Shamayim

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Berel Wein, Uri Sklaar, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Dovid Rosenfeld, Nissan Mendel

A television still from Russian NTV channel shows State Duma deputies Vasily Shandybin (L) and Alexander Fedulov fight during the State Duma lower house of parliament session in Moscow, February 7, 2003. The tussle started when independent deputy Fedulov made a rude statement about Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, and Shandybin, a Communist too, rallied to his party leader’s defense.
“MACHLOKET – strife.” Can we avoid it? One is prone to fall into a MACHLOKET-strife at least once in their life. Just once? Ha!! That’s a joke. Unfortunately, for those of us who do not live in caves but have to deal with people – and all too often with family members – the topic of “machloket” is all too relevant. Some exercise the concept daily: for some, fighting and bickering is a necessity, a way of life. It fuels their engines. Without arguing they cannot survive, life is boring otherwise. Regrettably, there are those who are professionals at making people hate them as a result of their argumentative nature, and with some others, MACHLOKET follows them where ever they go, like a tail.

Human nature is such that wherever there is a public gathering and people congregate regularly, at one point or another there will be some strife. No one is immune. Walla! The Bet Hakneset- Synagogue is a prime target. Occasionally there are problems even in the house of worship. ‘I didn’t get an Aliya, that Gabai!’ ‘He’s sitting in my seat!’ ‘He outbid me knowing I have a yortziet!’ These are all are shul complaints. Ironically, we go to shul to rid ourselves of our sins and end up making more.

Machloket can be found anywhere. I know of neighbors who didn’t speak for years because one snuck out and read the delivered newspaper before the subscriber and didn’t put back the paper back correctly in the bag….can you imagine!

Arguments per se are not “wrong” or groundless. There is nothing wrong with having disagreements with another human being – and airing them. People will always have differences; there will always be what to argue about. Yet their debates can be for the sake of Heaven.

L’shem shamayim!! (For the sake of the Heavens.) “I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for G-d and therefore I have a license to embarrass-hurt-insult-ruin people’s lives.”

Let’s keep in mind the prototype MACHLOKET which is found in this week’s parsha and involves Korach, the cousin of our leader Moshe. Korach accused Moshe of many things and disguised his intentions through “I’m doing it L’shem shamayim!!”

It would be interesting to explore a very dark time in Jewish history which would add an understanding to perhaps prevent us from falling into the trap and following the tempting route of being argumentative.

There was a famous Machloket which stemmed from, yes, a different Machloket and just went too far, with lasting horrible repercussions which we still feel 3-400 years later. Let’s give a little background.

We are the chosen people, the chosen talented suffering people. Being persecuted for so many years we have always yearned for the redemption, especially when times are tough.

When one mentions Mashiach the usual response by many is the rolling of the eyes. The coming of the Mashiach has been for the most part lip service in most communities. Many responds by saying, “First become a good Jew before worrying about the arrival of Mashiach.” Why do we turn the other way at every mention of the Mashiach? One reason for the cold attitude towards the Mashiach is because of the fiasco that happened many years ago which has left a black eye in Jewish communities till this very day. It was 1648, and by many accounts of Jewish authorities of the times, it was considered “a messianic year.” In today’s times, every year someone proclaims is a messianic year. There was a slick, charismatic, and brilliant figure by the name of Shabtai Tzvi. He was a great communicator, a teacher with a photographic memory who got Smicha at age 20. He learned Kabbalah which helped give him overall a very mystical appearance. Shabtai Tzvi proclaimed that he was born on Tisha B’ Av, which is one of the signs of bei
ng the real deal. He would fast during the week, whip himself, isolate himself for long periods of times, and immerse himself in ritual baths 30 times a day; a real character, a James Dean type. Tzvi convinced everybody that he was pious.

Some Rabbis were concerned. Apparently, he was a manic depressive, flight of moods, just an over-all strange kook. At the age of 22, he was married twice and divorced twice with no Get. The Rabbinical authorities warned him of ex-communication which made him even more popular.

Wherever he went he had a following, telling people fables of fighting with wild dogs and wolves with his bare hands. In every part of our history, people, desperate for a savior, are susceptible to finding a miracle worker. People want to believe what they want to believe.

On one of his visits to Yerushalayim he met Nathan of Gaza, a public relations genius, who made Tzvi into an international star. Within one year, people started to believe that he was the Mashiach. He affected world economies. The Jews began to sell their property all over the world for the pilgrimage to Israel. The Jews stopped working and even bullied their long time non-Jewish tormentors. Because of years of persecution, they were desperate for the Mashiach, a hero.

At some point, Shabtai Tzvi went too far. He raised eyebrows by marrying a 12 year-old girl, eating non-kosher and making a Bracha on it. The ultimate push-over-the-edge moment was when he was unable to control himself in mimicking and ridiculing the Sultan. One day, he came dressed with a costume similar to the Sultan’s uniform. The Sultan arrested him, brought him to the highest court and made him deny he was the Mashiach. The Sultan gave him a choice to convert, which he accepted. The non-Jewish world laughed at the Jews; persecution increased. Furthermore, war against kabbalah study increased. The faith in the establishment eroded.

Till today, the ripple effects of Shabtai Tzvi are felt. The cold attitude towards Moshiach is a protection as a result from the enormous pain this false prophet brought upon our nation.

The Shabtai Tzvi fiasco would not go away and it took an ugly turn fifty years later. There was a disagreement between two great distinguished Torah scholars, Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz (1690-1764) who was elected Rabbi of the Hamburg community and Rabbi Yaacov Emden (1697-1776). Rabbi Yonnatan’s friends in Altona and Hamburg appointed him as chief rabbi of the three united communities AHU (Altona, Hamburg and Wansbeck).
In the very first year of Rabbi Yonnatan’s taking up his position, there was a sudden rise in the number of deaths in childbirth. Having the reputation of a saintly kabbalist and miracle worker, many Jews turned to their rabbi for help. One of the ways to counteract the danger, which had often been practiced among kabbalists and miracle men, was to write special amulets (kameot). Rabbi Yonnatan wrote a number of them to be worn by expectant mothers, as he used to do earlier in Metz. An amulet which was supposed to have been written by Rabbi Yonnatan was brought to the attention of Rabbi Yaacov Emden, an outstanding Talmudist and kabbalist in Altona. The latter deciphered the mystical writing and found in it a hidden invocation to Shabbatai Tzvi. Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Eybeschutz of being a follower of Shabbatai Tzvi. The leaders of the community rushed to the defense of their rabbi. They proclaimed a boycott of Rabbi Emden’s synagogue and ordered Rabbi Emden to leave town within six months. In the meantime the controversy spread to other cities in Germany and Poland, as some of the most celebrated rabbis took part in support of one or the other of the two sides in the controversy. Rabbi Emden saw himself compelled to leave Altona, and he secretly went to his brother-in-law Rabbi Arye Leib, Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community in Amsterdam. From there be continued his fight, writing to the Council of Rabbis of the Four Lands meeting in Constantine, and pressed his charges.

What happens often when two great figures argue is that their followers come to misunderstandings, resulting in tragic consequences. When great Rabbis argue they keep it L’shem Shamayim. They have their boundaries and they know which buttons to push and which not. The great Rabbis are well aware of the honor of their fellow friend, colleague and even foe. Does one recall how much respect and courtesy Moshe had for Pharaoh? Even though they don’t see eye to eye, men of great Torah knowledge are professionals in dealing with the dignity of the other. It’s amazing when scholars argue in the Yeshiva setting how there are no personal jabs. Nobody is shooting below the belt. The Talmud is full of arguments. One could only imagine how dry the Talmud would be in the absence of controversy-argument and debate are its very lifeblood. Argumentativeness is a quality with which it seems we have collectively as a nation been blessed (?), as the old cliché goes, “Two Jews – three opinions!” Furthermore, one never notices that one Rav demeans another in all the volumes of Shas.

However, often the case is that their followers are not quite so proficient in delicate argumentative interpersonal communication.

One such student of Rabbi Emden went over the boundaries. He went too far and got carried away by embarrassing, in public, Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz. A Rabbi represents Torah and G-d. Insulting the Rav is as if one insults the Holy Books. Therefore, the Rav, depending on the circumstances, has to defend himself for he is defending the Torah.

It says in Pirkey Avot that if one ever is cursed by a Talmid Chacham it will sting like a scorpion’s bite. Rabbi Yonnatan retorted back, “May you never see a peaceful day in your life.” And so it was, the Rabbi’s words came true. The student never quite had a peaceful day since. He was constantly on the move, never sleeping in one bed more than two or three nights. Anyone who travels knows how grueling it can be on the body and how mentally exhausting it is. He was the wondering Jew; a Jew without an address.
Security personnel protect the Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Volodymyr Liytvyn, with umbrellas during a fight at a parliamentary sitting in Kiev, April 27, 2010. Ukraine’s parliament erupted into chaos as it ratified a bitterly controversial deal with Russia extending the lease of a key naval base.
Once he spent a few days in a particular town and he sat in on a shiur. The Rabbi, who was an important talmid chacham, was asked by the student traveler a question on the topic during the discourse. The Rav did not answer him. A little while later he asked the Rav a second question and the Rav ignored him again. After the shiur the student traveler approached the Rabbi and asked, “Why didn’t you answer me?” The Rav responded, “I sensed by the words of your question a certain disrespect towards the Torah and Torah scholars. This could be detrimental and cause you great distress, and I sense it has.” The traveler then told the Rav about his plight, and the Rav said, “If there is anyone that you insulted or hurt you must go and ask forgiveness of that person or your punishment will not cease.” Immediately he made plans to go to the town where Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz resides.

Upon his arrival the student immediately made his way up the stairs of Rabbi Yonnatan’s house, only to find the family sitting shiva as the Rabbi had passed away the day before. The traveler was in tears – for the rest of his life he will have to endure this curse hovering over him.

I believe it’s a powerful lesson for us all, considering that we tend to get caught up in the arguments of the great Rabbis of our generation, taking sides as if it’s a baseball game, rooting for the Mets and hating the Yankees. We have no business putting down another Rabbi and getting involved in their arguments. Understanding the depth of the Torah concepts and their parameters is in the great Rabbis jurisdiction, not ours. We do not know the behind the scenes of their disagreement and it not fair for their sake, for our sake, and for our children’s sake to stick our two cents in. Doing so can bring upon ourselves TZAROT. Let’s not play with fire.

L’shem shamayim arguments have to be objective to the highest degree and it’s not so simple to attain that level. Korach’s proclamation that he was “l’shem shamayim” was not correct for he had personal ulterior motives and gains. The flag-of-principle rarely displays its true colors. More often than not, it’s really just an ‘alien’ flag in camouflage. How careful must one be, when raising one’s flag-of-principle, to be sure that the winds blowing are winds of truth and justice, and not winds of contention, self- gratification, and triumph.

We all go through transitions in life

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Yissachar Frand, Akiva Tatz, Yossi Bilus, Asher Hurzberg

Here we go again! “Why have you brought the congregation to this wilderness to die there, we and our animals? And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? This is not a place of seed or fig tree or grapevine or pomegranate tree; and there is no water to drink.” (Bamidbar 20:4-5) Yada, yada, yada. Sound familiar? The complaints are repetitive. Seemingly, it’s the same script but different place in the wilderness. Don’t these Jews ever learn their lesson? A bunch of complainers, that’s what they are. Zero tolerance and no patience, that’s the way they come across!! What happened to the miracles they saw? What happened to these great people, weren’t they were labeled, “The Generation of Knowledge?” These guys were supposed to be the greatest ever!

How can that be?
To understand why our beloved ancestors behaved the way they did and to perhaps even bring total clarity, we have to take note of a fundamental approach to, of all things, death.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz teaches us an interesting observation on what happens the seconds, the moments of death, or perhaps I should say during the transition between life and death, when one is on the threshold of leaving this world. Rabbi Tatz observes that when a person is on the verge of death, he experiences a moment of nothingness. It’s a blank screen which results in being uncomfortable, vulnerable, alone, scared, unsure. After all, he’s in limbo. At this precious moment Satan works his clever deceptive ways one last time. He thrust a great wave of deceptive falsehood in a last ditch effort for the individual to deny. As the individual feels the dark nothingness, Satan approaches and says, “Look, there is nothing here – there is no Gan Eden, there is no reward. It was all a sham. The Torah and the Rabbis fooled you, it’s one big hoax. There is no such thing as a G-d!!” At that very moment if he accepts those words for what it’s worth, Rabbi Tatz says, he will lose it all!! Such is this moment of transition, of confusion, where Satan tries to take advantage of you and seal your fate, forever!

Incidentally, for this reason one has to bury a loved one immediately. The confusion and trauma of the transition period causes the deceased tremendous hardship and great discomfort. Due to the anguish that the soul is experiencing it is highly recommended that the surrounding loved ones say Shema Yisrael as the soul is leaving the body. This helps ease the transition and reaffirm his commitment to G-d.
The game of life can be difficult at times. One of the more challenging aspects of being in this world is dealing with death, and in this week’s parsha Miriam, the beloved sister of Moshe and Aharon, passed on. We clearly see the impact she had, for in her merit the Jews were privileged to drink water in the desert. (Often, it’s not till one passes away do we appreciate what good they did or what they contributed to society and how much influence they had on us.)

Rabbi Yissachar Frand quotes Rav Simcha Zissel from his book Sam Derech who asks a very interesting question. According to the Ramban, the incident of Korach challenging our leaders Moshe and Aharon occurred right after the incident of the Spies. This means that all the events in Parshat Shlach and Korach occurred in the second year after the Exodus. However, Parshat Chukat occurred in the 40th year after the Exodus, approximately 38 years later. They were now on the threshold of entry into the Land of Israel.

All the troubles and complaints up until now occurred in the first 18 months in the desert. However, the incident at Mei Meriva, the “we want water” complaint in Parshat Chukat occurred in year 40. Rav Simcha Zissel asks, “What happened in between?” Rav Simcha Zissel answers that we see from the Mishna in Avot and the Gemara in Erachin that for the 38 intervening years they were perfect. How do we know this? The Mishna (Avot 5:4) lists ten specific “challenges” that our forefathers tested G-d with in the Wilderness and quotes a pasuk as the source text for this number, “And they tested Me for these ten times.” (Bamdibar 14:22) The Gemera in Erachin (15a) spells out what these ten challenges were: two by Yam Suf, two involving the mann, two with the quail, two with water (one in Refidim and one in Mei Meriva), one with the Golden Calf, and one in Wilderness of Paran (the Spies). These all happened in the first year and a half, with the exception of Mei Meriva-“the water incident,” which happened at the very end. Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this that in the intervening 38 years, there were no challenges, no complaints, and the Jewish people behaved perfectly!

Furthermore, during those years they were schlepping baggage on a moment’s notice with children in tow, directed by the cloud of glory. To not complain one iota is very commendable! This constitutes an immeasurable trust in G-d.

This is very much in line with our concept of “The Generation of Knowledge” (Dor Deah), the people who consumed only mann, lived within the confines of the Clouds of Glory, and learned Torah for 38 years from Moshe Rabbeinu. They did not need to worry about clothes, food, or a job. They could devote their entire lives to spiritual growth. They could make the following proclamation: “We have not done anything wrong in the last 38 years!”

If so, Rav Simcha Zissel wonders, what then happened in the first two years and in year 40 that caused Klal Yisrael to “act out” and challenge the Almighty time and again during those periods? It seems out of character compared to the 38 goodie goodie years.

What propelled them to switch from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde?
Rav Simcha Zissel offers a very important insight into human nature, something that is very important for us to know vis a vis ourselves and vis a vis our children. The first two years and the final year were times of transition. Klal Yisrael was going from one stage into the next. They left Egypt, where they were slaves, and shortly thereafter they became a Divine Nation. The journey from the 49th level of impurity to receiving the Torah was a year of tremendous spiritual upheaval and transition in their lives. And now, on the verge of entering Eretz Yisroel, they also face a traumatic transition. They were about to go from an existence of eating mann and drinking water that flowed from a rock to a normal existence, having to plant, hoe, and plow, and to make business deals and take care of their families. Again they faced transition.

When a person is in a period of transition he is not serene. When a nation goes through sudden change, they do not have peace of mind and are not at peace with themselves. This lack of calmness makes people vulnerable to making poor decisions and silly mistakes. Without serenity, people cannot make informed decisions.
The lesson Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this is that one must be extremely careful whenever entering a new situation in life, even if the change is a good change, like becoming newly married or new parents. All these phases represent major transitions in one’s life. They are wonderful transitions but the transitions can still easily cause upheaval in a person’s life. When things are changing and coming at a person from all directions, he lacks “yishuv ha’daat” [peace of mind] and in such situations, he must be particularly careful.

Perhaps one can justify the popular term “no pain, no gain” since “transition” is what elevates one in life. But Satan knows he’s being threatened and he puts his best foot forward. Throughout our Torah we see exactly this pattern of sabotaging the transition phase. When Noach came out from the Arc to start a new life in a new world, he got drunk from the grapes which led to negative consequences. When Eisav returned from Avraham’s funeral, if he even attended he committed five immeasurable sins. This was a major transition for him, as he idolized his grandfather Avraham and now he’s gone. The inauguration of the Tabernacle, a milestone, was marred by the death of Aharon’s two sons Nadav and Avihu.
As we know, it was King David who laid the blueprints for the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). However, it was under King Solomon’s leadership that it was built. King Solomon was married to the daughter of Pharaoh, one of his many wives, and on the day of the inauguration of the long-awaited Temple, she caused him to oversleep. The entire nation was waiting for their King on this momentous occasion to come and lead the ceremony, not knowing that he was out of commission. Apparently, his mother, Batsheva, had a grasp on what was taking place. She had a sixth sense that mothers possess which led to her uneasy feeling. Mothers have a certain intuition about their children. (If I sneeze, my mother, who happens to be on the other side of town, will call me up and demand that I put on my sweater.)

So Batsheva storms the King’s bedroom with the heel of her shoe in hand. She hits her son, King Solomon, scolding him, “What are you doing? Get up! The people are waiting!”

Satan is trying to spoil the fun. He doesn’t want the transition to go smoothly for he knows that transition in life is a form of elevation.

Everything has a reason. It was time for the passing of Miriam which propelled the end of the miracle waters that sustained the Israelites. In essence G-d was preparing the Jews to enter the Promised Land. It was designed that way, for them to start fetching water and food for themselves. However they still had a small weakness in their trust in G-d, and they felt that they were not ready to proceed to this next stage, of living outside the direct confines and support of G-d. This lack of trust was magnified by entering into the transition phase of their next mission in life.
One has to be careful when something positive or negative occurs in their lives, for that is a transition phase and we are vulnerable to error. Furthermore, even a vacation or a drive to the country can cause a slight confusion. There are those who are not the same people when they go on vacation or business trips. Perhaps for this reason one has to recite a special prayer, Tefilat HaDerech-the journey prayer.

One has to reaffirm his commitment to G-d and, most importantly, to himself.


The Symbol of the Jewish People

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Chaim Shmuelevitz z”tl, Pinchas Winston, Eliyahu ben Chaim,  Asher Hurzberg, Binny Friedman, Dovid Green and Dr. Steven Fine

“Shalom” – are we ever going to have peace with the nations of the world, or for that matter, ourselves? It seems very remote; perhaps when Hillary Clinton grows a beard or Donald Trump realizes that he is serving the country and not the country is serving him. Incredibly, even our national identity is being hidden from us. One of the signature symbols of the Jewish nation is the Menorah. We, the Jewish people, have an illustrious and historic past. Miraculously we’ve persevered through thousands of years of persecution and pogroms … just ask your Abba, your Sabbath and Savta, and they’ll tell you firsthand what troubles they’ve encountered. Nonetheless, we can hold our head up high with pride. We have kept our traditions, our culture our commitment to Torah and G-d, well at least some of us, while our past enemies vanished with no trace. However because of the many attacks and invasions over the years against us, of which there have been a few, we have lost many of the physical treasures which symbolizes and stamps our commitment to G-d.

In every battles and the invasion, the enemy, whomever they were at the time, always managed to take booty, especially, sacred objects which G-d commanded us to use for him. At times, it’s quite embarrassing, the Gentile nations know better than us how valuable they were. There is a famous story of the discovery of the golden Menorah by the Romans:

The Romans were afraid to enter the Kodesh HaKokoshim – the holy of holies – after conquering our holy Temple. They knew who ever enters there and is not worthy dies. So they said “Whoever will volunteer to enter can take whatever he wants for himself!” The rebellious Jew, Yosef Mishteh said defiantly “I will.” He proceeded to take out the beautiful golden menorah only for it to be taken away by the Romans. “This is too beautiful for a Jewish commoner. This should be given to the Emperor instead. We’ll let you go in again and take out whatever you want.” However this time he refused. “I will not desecrate my G-d a second time,” he said. Even after they threatened death he still refused. They executed him.

Aside from the many atrocities that the Romans committed against the Jewish people, one was the desecration of sacred Temple property. The very symbol of this is not in Israel, but in Rome: the Arch of Titus. Like most triumphal arches this one celebrates a victory of war, and in this case, Rome’s crushing of the Jewish revolt that resulted in the destruction of the Temple.

Inside the arch is a bas-relief sculpture showing the Roman army carrying the spoils of war down through the streets of Rome. The most notable item is a large menorah being carried down the Via Scara, and it is believed that the actual menorah is stashed in the secret tomb of Alric the Goth at the bottom of the Busento River.

What is history and what is myth? What is true and what is legend? These are questions that arise from time to time and specifically apply to the whereabouts of the Menorah.

Reporting on his 1996 meeting with Pope John Paul II, Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs Shimon Shetreet said, according to the Jerusalem Post, that “he had asked for Vatican cooperation in locating the gold menorah from the Second Temple that was brought to Rome by Titus in 70 C.E.” Shetreet claimed that recent research at the University of Florence indicated the Menorah might be among the hidden treasures in the Vatican’s storerooms. “I don’t say it’s there for sure,” he said, “but I asked the Pope to help in the search as a goodwill gesture in recognition of the improved relations between Catholics and Jews.” Witnesses to this conversation “tell that a tense silence hovered over the room after Shetreet’s request was heard.” There was research done on Shetreet’s reference at the University of Florence, but no that was contacted there had ever heard of it.

This story has repeated itself a number of times since. One of the two chief rabbis of Israel, on their historic visit to the Vatican in 2004, asked about the Menorah, as did the President of Israel, Moshe Katzav, on another occasion. This is the official statement from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email: The requests by Shetreet, the president, and the chief rabbis reflect the long-held belief that the Catholic Church, as the inheritor of Rome, took possession of the empire’s booty-as documented by the Arch of Titus. It is thus assumed that, among other treasures looted from the Jewish people, the Temple menorah is stashed away someplace in the storerooms of the Vatican

These requests of the Church are a fascinating extension of the Jewish hope that the Temple Menorah taken by Titus would be returned “home.” The legends of the Menorah at the Vatican have considerable currency. In one version, a certain American rabbi entered the Vatican and saw the Menorah. In another version, it was an Israeli Moroccan rabbi known as “Rabbi Pinto” who saw it. In a third version, when the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isaac Herzog, went to rescue Jewish children in Europe, he visited Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) at the Vatican. According to this story, the Pope showed Rabbi Herzog the Menorah, but refused to return it.

It is frustrating how these valuable and symbolic treasures of our heritage have vanished. And there they wait, hidden from the eyes of all mankind, until the time that Heaven deems fit to reveal them once again.

It is interesting to note that although the commandment is the lighting of the menorah in our holy Temple, we find the obligation stretching further demanding the preparation of the wicks. The format in which the Torah presents us with this mitzvah is not a commandment to light the menorah, but rather an obligation to bring oil, in order that the wicks might one day be lit in the Mishkan. In other words the preparation is part of the commandment. Incredibly, Maimonides (Sefer HaMitzvoth; Aseh (positive commandment) 25) actually defines this mitzvah as: “La’aroch Nerot ba’Mikdash.” “To set up wicks (candles) in the Temple.” (And in his Hilchot Temidin 3:10-12, he clearly views setting up the candles and lighting them as essentially the same mitzvah).

Normally there is a separation between the mitzvah itself, and the preparation for the mitzvah. If one is obligated to eat matzah on Passover, the baking process is not part of the biblical obligation; it is simply the vehicle through which we make ready to fulfill this mitzvah. So why is this mitzvah, (the lighting of the menorah) different? Indeed, the Torah here does not even mention the menorah itself?

In regards to Moshe, there is something very unique, as well as highly unusual, in the topic of the menorah and the Tabernacle activity, where we find (parshat Tetzaveh)) Moshe’s name omitted completely. This is the only portion (since his birth in the portion of Exodus) where Moshe’s name does not appear.

The Midrash suggests that in the sin of the Golden calf (32:33), Moshe says to G-d: “Me’cheini Na’ Mi’Sifrechah”, “Erase me from your book.” In other words, if I cannot achieve forgiveness for the Jewish people, then I don’t want to be in the Torah. And, despite the fact that Hashem does indeed forgive us, nonetheless part of Moshe’s declaration came to pass, and thus, Moshe’s name is, indeed, not mentioned in one parsha pertaining to the Temple work.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Pri Tzaddik explains that Moshe’s soul was actually the re-incarnation of Noach, and that the word “Mecheini” (“erase me”) are the same letters as the phrase “Mei Noach” “the floodwaters of Noach”, which is how the book of Chronicles refers to the flood, implying that on some level the tragedy of the flood was Noach’s responsibility. Unlike Abraham’s attempt to save Sedom, Noach seems to have made no effort to save the world and avert the destruction of the flood.

Moshe, however, saves the Jewish people literally putting his own name on the line rather than ‘allow’ G-d to destroy His people. On a mystical level, if you will, Moshe ‘fixes’ the error that came into the world in the time of Noach and achieves what is known as ‘Tikkun’ or a ‘repair in the world’ for Noach’s soul.

So what does all this have to do with our portion and the mitzvah of the menorah?

Firstly we have to explore the importance of what the menorah enumerates. We read in our parashah that Yitzchak brought his new wife, Rivka, into the tent of his mother Sarah. Rashi z”l writes, “He brought her into the tent and she became exactly like his mother Sarah.” He explains that several miracles that used to occur while Sarah was living began to occur again, one of them being that the Shabbat candles burned from one Shabbat eve to the next.

Our Sages teach us that light is associated with peace, because light allows man to differentiate between things. Peace exists when proper boundaries exist, which is possible only when there is light. In the dark, everything is jumbled, and there is no differentiation and therefore no peace. This is why morning is called “boker”-because the morning light permits “bikkur” / inspection, which leads to differentiation. On Shabbat there is peace because man refrains from work and rests.

Perhaps the significance of Sarah and Rivka’s Shabbat candles burning all week is that these Matriarchs distinguished themselves by their ability to differentiate where their husbands did not-in Sarah’s case, recognizing that Yishmael was a bad influence on Yitzchak; in Rivka’s case, recognizing that Yaakov, not Esav, deserved to receive Yitzchak’s blessing

The morning is a time of optimism. Awaking from the semi-death of sleep, the light and warmth of day promises rebirth, renewal, and success. If one is sensitive enough, he can feel it that which is absent from darkness. Usually one’s illness is more apparent at night. One cannot read Chumash at night (Torah sh’bchtav), only the Oral Torah. The reason is Written Torah is black and white and a Jew can’t get around it. However the Sages come and qualify the laws. Sure one cannot eat chametz on Pesach and has to relinquish ownership, but one can make a contract and sell what in his home without physically removing it, The Sages put the measure of mercy into the laws.

“And it was evening (first) and (then) it was morning; one day.”

Figuratively speaking, night represents pain and suffering. Day represents light and salvation.” For the righteous, day follows the evening. The path of the good may start out dark and painful, but in the end, it is bright, shiny and pleasant. For the evil, their path begins pleasant, but it ends with darkness and suffering. This is also the reason why the Sabbath comes on the seventh day of the week. It teaches us that there is a reward in the end for our pain and difficulties which we endure initially by taking the path of the good. (Imrei Shefer)

Moshe’s greatest attribute was his ability to recognize that he was really only a vessel for something much greater than himself. The Torah describes Moshe as the greatest Anav, the most humble person that ever lived. More than anything else Moshe was able to get out of his own way.

How often do we get so wrapped up in ourselves, and so caught up in making sure we get what we want, and what we need, that we forget that it isn’t and never was supposed to be about us; we are merely the vessel for something much greater, for the entire world.

Can I be the earth others walk on? Can I get in touch with the very real notion that I am meant to be a vehicle for light? Being a vehicle for G-d, being able to see myself merely as the wick for the flame….

Moshe was so in touch with the reality of what he was a vessel for that he was able to demonstrate that without the Jewish people, there was no longer a point to his existence.

In a time when rulers and monarchs were acting as gods, and assuming that the people existed to serve them, Moshe was teaching the world that it is not the people who serve the leader, but the leader who is meant to be a vessel to serve the people, and indeed the world.

And that is what this week’s portion, and particularly this mitzvah is all about. It is about connecting to real purpose, and valuing the vehicle for achieving that purpose.

Just like Moshe, the Menorah was only the vehicle for bringing light into the world. So often we are so dazzled by the Menorahs in this world, we forget they only have value if they are vehicles for light. Our mission as a people in the end is simply to bring light into the world.

Yet, this mitzvah is given to Aaron and his sons before they are actually invested with the mantle of the Priesthood. (See 27:21, and 28:1)

Apparently, the mitzvah of lighting the menorah was given to Aaron irrespective of his position as a Kohen, a priest. In the end, the priesthood was Aaron’s role, but the lighting of the menorah reflected who Aaron really was, and what he was all about.

In fact, it explains why it is Aaron fulfilling this mitzvah, and not Moshe. Shouldn’t it have been Moshe’s job to light the Menorah, especially as it was Moshe who brought the Torah to the world?

The answer is, Moshe was meant to bring the Torah down to earth, but it was Aaron’s mission to spread it to the world. And the reason Aaron was such an appropriate vehicle for doing this was because the attribute that epitomized Aaron was shalom; peace. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Aaron is described as the Ohev Shalom and the Rodef Shalom: the lover and pursuer of peace. The idea of being a vehicle for bringing G-d in to the world is all about peace.

In fact, the word Shalom itself is one of the names of G-d (hence the tradition that we do not say Shalom in the bathroom…). Through peace, Shalom, we succeed not only in bringing G-d into the world, but also in spreading G-d to the rest of the world.

There is an interesting connection between this mitzvah and the concept of Shalom.

The Talmud (Shabbat 21a) draws an equation between the kindling of lights in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), and the candles we light in our homes every Friday afternoon, ushering in Shabbat.

The Talmud explains (23b) that (at least according to Rashi), the essence of the Shabbat candles is that they bring Shalom Bayit; they bring peace into the home. Ultimately, suggests Rashi, there cannot be true peace in a place without light. The explanation given there is that if a person is stumbling in the darkness, he is not at peace. (And indeed, if people are moving around in the darkness, they will inevitably bang into each other and create discord between themselves.)

But perhaps there is a different way of looking at this idea. Ultimately, it is my ability to see and be at one with everyone, (Shalom which is based on the root Shalem, or whole) which is what peace is all about.

Shabbat begins with the lighting of candles, because Shabbat reminds us what this world is really all about, and what it is supposed to be: all about light. And if the Mikdash is a sanctuary in space, whose essence is related to light, Shabbat is a sanctuary in time whose essence is also light. (Thus, unless one specifies otherwise, the lighting of the candles automatically ushers in the Shabbat.)

May G-d bless us soon, to become, as a people the vehicle for light we are meant to be, and create together a world of light and shalom, truly whole all of us together.

How to think positive…..for it’s crucial to success

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s  Akiva Grunblatt, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Elchanan Poupko,  Yanki Tauber and Rochel Holzkenner

“Be positive, be positive,” blah blah blah. We’ve been hearing that for years. Well, it just so happens that perhaps there are some who don’t wish to take that approach; they don’t feel it’s necessary to put on a façade, a fake smile and feel that the world is shiny bright. As a matter of fact a recent New York Times article, “Tyranny of the Positive Attitude,” reported on a group of psychologists who are attacking the current trend of ‘be positive – be happy’. For several years now, positive thinking has been in vogue. But these good doctors are “worried that we’re not making space for people to feel bad” and feel that a reversal of this trend is in order. There’s been a symposium (“The Overlooked Virtues of Negativity”), a book (Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching), and a push to get psychologists back to doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to “focus on mental illness and human failing.”

However, the bottom line is that everyone wants to be positive. It’s a good feeling. We all gravitate towards positive people. We feel warm when we receive a smile from a person. We want to sit next to the person at work, shul, or school who is cheery, who always sees the glass half full, and who sees a shining light in everything. Remember, a broken clock is correct twice a day!!

We humans, after all, are thinkers (well at least some of us are) and we are at liberty to choose what we think about. Thinking is power. There is no reason not to utilize this potent tool to improve the quality of one’s life in general and mental well-being in particular. As an old friend Joe Alibayof once said, “They have a brain; however, they don’t use it correctly.”

The Torah’s attitude, which predates today’s positivist trend by four thousand years and will survive it by much longer than that, is one of unabashed optimism. This is the doctrine of bitachon, or trust in G d. Left to its own devices, the mind will by default tend to fill itself with negative thoughts that spring from its unrectified subconscious. For this reason we gravitate to negative news. When was the last time one paid attention to “no robberies on 47th street today” or “they have a solid marriage”; that’s really pretty boring. Nevertheless, although one pays attention to the news they also tend to distance and alienate themselves from them. What’s the old expression? “Success got many generals and failure is an orphan.”

There is a fascinating incident related in the second chapter of Shemot that opens up a wealth of insight into the Jewish Law of Attraction.

It begins with Moshe, our leader, breaking up a fight. Unfortunately, his intervention was not appreciated.
“Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

“He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, “Why are you going to strike your friend?” And he retorted, “Who made you a man, a prince and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?”

“Moshe became frightened and said, “Indeed, the matter has become known!”

“Pharaoh heard of this incident, and he sought to slay Moshe . . .” (Shemot 2:11-15)

Why does the Torah highlight Moshe’s emotional response? Anyone in his shoes would have been frightened. He’d taken a huge risk when he killed the Egyptian in order to save his brother’s life. And now, if his actions were to be exposed to Pharaoh, he’d be considered guilty of a crime of the highest order.
That being said, it’s unusual for the Torah to spill ink to describe Moshe’s emotional reaction, his fear. We don’t hear about Yitzchac’s fright when being bound on the altar, or Yoseph’s fear of being sold into the hand of strangers. It’s not that they were impassive, just that the Torah, being a book of moral guidance, recounts only the details that will be useful for our spiritual growth and development. Moshe was frightened, but why does the Torah highlight his emotional response? What relevant insight is offered by G d through highlighting Moshe’s fear?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers a fascinating insight based on nearness of the above verses. “And Moshe became frightened . . . Pharaoh heard of the incident.” So potent was Moshe’s fear, his “negative visualization,” that his fear blossomed into fruition-his deed was reported to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh wanted him killed.

Moshe is the Jewish hero, righteous and prophetic. And yet G d exposes a subtle flaw of his, his disbelief that things would turn out for the best. If he had been optimistic, he could have averted his own arrest by Pharaoh.

What this means, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is that bitachon, the absolute assurance and conviction that G d will make things good, actually becomes the conduit and vessel through which we draw down and receive G d’s blessings. Positive thinking is not just a way to weather negative occurrences, it’s much more than that – it actually makes positive results happen.

In this week’s parsha quite the opposite happened. Through pressure from the Jewish people, Moshe, the Jewish leader, requested that spies should be sent to inspect the promised land before the Jews entered. Ten out of the twelve spies returned with negative reports. These twelve were righteous individuals but they portrayed Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people and perhaps themselves in a negative light. The spies described the land which “flows with milk and honey” as a land which eats its inhabitants. They described the land as having an overpowering atmosphere with thick and heavy fruits and the inhabitants as being high and mighty as they discouraged the people from conquering the land. Their unfavorable portrayal of the land caused the entire Jewish people to despair of the possibility of living there and to voice their desire to return to Egypt. God was “angry” at the spies for speaking negatively about the land, and decreed that the entire generation “will die in the desert” (Numbers 14:35). But what they said could have been interpreted in the positive and it actually was by the minority spies Yehoshua ben Nun and Kalev ben Yefuneh..

We find another important incident in the Torah where our forefather Yaacov’s sons reacted negatively to their brothers Yosef’s dream; they felt threatened. The only one who reacted favorably was Rueben, the oldest son, who fell in disfavor with his father for intruding into his father’s private life. Rueben saw a positive in Yosef dream. He was counted among the brothers, implying that he’s still part of the core. But the rest of the brothers failed to see anything positive in the dream and therefore reacted negatively. Interestingly the pasuk then says, “Let us see what will happen to his dream.” We would assume that it’s the brothers who are saying that. However, Rashi indicates it was the heaven’s response to the negativity that the brothers showed.
Furthermore we find by King Yehoshiyahu (649-609 BCE), one of the righteous kings of Judeah, a startling fact. While he was renovating the Temple a Sefer Torah was discovered. It was rare to find a Sefer Torah during that period because Yehoshiyahu’s grandfather the wicked rasha Menashe destroyed the majority of the Torahs. His son Amon fared no better in being a rasha. Can one imagine today no sefer Torahs?

One might think it’s a positive sign from G-d that a Sefer Torah was discovered and in fact many were rejoicing. However they discovered that the scrolled was not rolled to Bereshit, where it usually should be, but to the page dealing with GALUT -exile, implying that the children of Israel were destined to be kicked out. The King ripped his garment in sorrow.
If one would look at it in a positive spin, here is a chance to repent. G-d is showing you a sign. Let’s learn from the experience and change our ways. The fact that the Master of the Universe reached out is an indication that we still have a chance. Unfortunately, it is human nature to gravitate to the negative and the king didn’t see the positive.

One of the most important modern discoveries in the rapidly expanding field of Positive Psychology is recognition of the benefits of gratitude. Much evidence has shown the power gratitude has to make people happier, mentally stronger, and more appreciative of what they have. Research has shown that the simple activity of writing down at the end of each day five things for which one is grateful for has the ability to reduce depression, increase happiness, and improve relationships more than any other positive psychology treatment or technique. College students who consistently exercise gratitude showed to have higher GPAs and better wellbeing. People who actively engage in gratitude practices show better signs of physical and mental health as well as improved relationships.

The principle of gratitude is so fundamental in Judaism that the great renaissance kabbalist the Maharal of Prague (Gur Aryeh, Gen. 2:5) goes as far as saying that it is prohibited to do a favor to someone who will be ungrateful because this introduces the dangerous trait of thanklessness into this world.
Yet at the same time there seems to be a different reputation we have made for ourselves. In his New York Times bestseller Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex portrays Yiddish culture as one of disapproval and complaining, peaking with the statement that “Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism.” This perspective does not need to remain confined to the era of our exile. A simple look at the Bible shows that, both in the desert and in the land of Israel, the Jewish people were often discontent (e.g. Ex. 14:11-12,16:24-25, 17:2-4).

How do we reconcile the powerful contradiction between the strong positive message Judaism dictates and the longstanding practice of disapproval? How do we explain the paradox between the strong ethic of thanks, gratitude and appreciation that Judaism so strongly advocates and the Jewish tendency toward disapproval and questioning?

The answer lies in one of the most powerful and influential Jewish traits: dissatisfaction.

While Judaism teaches us to believe in the Master of the Universe, at the same time it teaches us another almost contradictory idea: prayer. Jews never accept things as they are; they always hope. Implicit in the concept of prayer, which is so fundamental to Judaism, is the idea that things don’t need to be as they are. Every time we pray, we suggest that no matter how difficult things may be we still believe that G-d can change them (see Brachot 10a; Maharal, Netiv Ha’avodah chapter 2; R. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’ikarim 4:18). When Moshe was told by G-d that he will not enter the land of Israel, one of the first things that Moshe did was beg for permission to enter from the very same G-d who told him that he will not be going in. Implicit in the Jewish tendency to kvetch is the belief that things can be changed for the better. Along with our strong belief in a G-d who is looking out for us and is willing and able to intervene is the belief that things don’t have to be the way they are, and thus we ask G-d to change them.

This attitude of change has encouraged Jews to be at the forefront of improvement in the modern era. It is very much reasonable to suggest that Jewish innovation, demand for social justice, and intellectual creativity all originate in this deep-seated belief that things can always be changed, and in our refusal to accept things as they are no matter how fixed they seem to be. The reason Jews were always suspected of being social revolutionaries – as was true in many cases – is because Jews did not believe in the world that is as much as they believed in the world that ought to be. And it is for this reason that Jews have been so associated with change and development. This is not because of a complacent dissatisfaction but because of a responsible dissatisfaction. It is because of the belief that there can be a better world.
What is scary is the thought that just as one can create positive in the world so too one can create a negative vibe that will last. What the spies created was a negative energy that was brought down which exists till this very day.

In conclusion we have to remember, that besides the ability to change through prayer, and besides the appreciation one has to show, one of the fundamental pillars of Judaism is to trust G-d for He foresees the world with a much larger lens than we could even imagine. Rabbi Yossi Bilus told me over an effective story to illustrate this:

There were two gentlemen who worked as water carriers. However one of them was given a bucket with a slight hole in it and as he shleped through the field to get to his destination half the bucket was already empty. The other worker would laugh at his friend at the frustration of having a whole in the bucket. When he went to complain to the boss, the boss retorted, “I know about the hole and it was designed that way. Come, let me show you.” He proceeded to go over the path where he would carry the bucket. “You see, your friend’s path is clear and smooth, but your path is full of flowers. Your journey required you to irrigate the field. For that reason a hole was placed in your bucket.” One has to look at things positively as there always is a bigger picture.

The Spy Who Loves Me